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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #12 - Proxy Wars: The Fall of ISS

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It wasn't supposed to end this way. Count Ta'Sessine and Serenity Steele had envisioned a new form of business in EVE, a venture capital group devoted to populating the deserted tracts of 0.0 with outposts, the ferociously expensive player-created stations which, in late 2005, no single alliance had the capital or werewithhal to build. Created as a neutral entity that would be above politics, the Interstellar Starbase Syndicate (ISS) was the darling of New Eden's investor class. Each new outpost they created was a separate corporate entity providing dividends to its investors, and there seemed to be a bottomless desire for ISS shares. At its height, many in the gaming media wrote about the ISS's IPO stock offering as an example of emergent gameplay. But then, everything with wrong. By December of 2006, ISS had become the focus of a proxy war - a brushfire conflict where massive powerblocs tested one another. Everything they had worked for was ruined, and a GIA agent was there to help usher them to their doom.

EVE 01

There are some regions that just aren't worth fighting for, and the core of ISS lived in one of them - Catch. Centrally located in the galaxy and adjacent to equally undesireable (and roleplayer-infested) Providence, the territory held by ISS amounted to little more than a galactic parking lot, with no valuable mining or ratting to attract hostile attention. This was ideal for a neutral business entity, as it allowed the ISS to rely upon a small volunteer defense force to patrol their space, the ISS Navy. ISS's only neighbor was a small alliance whose only ambition was to fly around while extremely drunk and bash into things, the Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate (IAC). Every now and then IAC would shoot ISS, but it was hardly a threat; the very idea of IAC being a strategic threat was patently ridiculous, given how inebriated they were at any given moment.

After their first few successful outpost ventures, the injection of fame and riches led the ISS leadership to expand their ambitions. No longer would they merely hold worthless space, they would engage in direct partnerships with existing powerblocs, setting up outposts on their behalf in valuable regions. The first of these would be in Tenerifis, for Lotka Volterra (LV). This would not compromise ISS's neutrality, Count Ta'Sessine insisted, but while investors could be fooled, the enemies of Lotka Volterra - the RedSwarm Federation (Red Alliance, Goonswarm, and Tau Ceti Federation) - began openly denouncing ISS for becoming a LV pet.

EVE 02

The neutrality policy had been at the core of ISS's defense for years. By holding themselves as unaligned in 0.0 politics, investors could be assured that ISS's outposts - technically, shareholder property - would not be seized by other alliances. This policy was publicly and vigorously enforced against any ISS member who spoke out too openly about 0.0 politics. In one such incident in July 2006, a ISS Navy director named Jacob Majestic was formally censured and stripped of his roles and duties because he openly disagreed with the Band of Brothers attack on Goonswarm.

Meanwhile, IAC had been expanding in a constellation within five jumps of ISS. The third IAC outpost, in F4R, was constructed right next door to two ISS properties, KDF and ZXIC. Proximity gave rise to escalating tensions; rather than seeing IAC as adorable drunken neighbors who you can have a friendly scrap with, ISS began to view IAC as a strategic threat. And unlike in the early days of their existence as a mercantile alliance, ISS was now absolutely loaded with isk. Enough was enough; the next time IAC reset standings with ISS, Count TaSessine hired the best mercenaries in New Eden and announced that he would protect his investors assets by annexing everything IAC owned, driving them from 0.0 forever.  

At the time ISS began work on Lotka Volterra's new outpost, the RedSwarm Federation had just completed the conquest of Scalding Pass and Wicked Creek, seizing the regions from LV and their allies. Both sides were exhausted from months of conflict. On the verge of a LV counterattack in Cache that would have created a new front and months of inconclusive fighting, the leaders of each side made a gentlemen's agreement: rather than risk anything of value to one another, each powerbloc would take a side in the growing ISS vs IAC scuffle and have a delightful little proxy war.

EVE 03

As with the 'little wars' of Cold War fame, suddenly the conflict exploded as multiple powerblocs piled in. The attraction was inescapable: pilots from the deep 0.0 alliances could have a lark blowing each other up and absolutely wrecking Catch, and there would be practically no strategic blow-back for their own homeland. ISS hired Mercenary Coalition (MC); Firmus Ixion (FIX) and Lotka Volterra joined in. They formed the largest capital fleet at the time in the game, with more than 50 carriers, 50 dreadnaughts, and two titans. On the IAC side, Goonswarm and Tau Ceti Federation threw in, trying to staunch the IAC losses; before the declaration of the proxy was, they had lost F4R and been whittled down to two stations.

Suddenly, Catch was a whirlwind of both fleet battles and shadowy politics, and the eyes of New Eden turned to this backwater war. In order to counter the formidable Mercenary Coalition, I asked UAxDeath, at the time one of the leaders of Red Alliance, to get in touch with his friend Evil Thug, since Red Alliance was sitting this war out. Evil Thug, leader of Against All Authorities (-A-), came into the fight on the IAC side, announcing that he hoped to kill the Mercenary Coalition Titan. This inspired MC "405"to find a quick 'out' from their contract with ISS and evacuate. Meanwhile, Goonswarm reached out to Dusk and Dawn (D2), the German alliance on the other side of the galaxy, and inquired about the possibility of a simultaneous attack on an ISS outpost outside of Catch. Abruptly, ISS found itself besieged on all sides, the prospects of an easy victory in a regional war dashed.

The endgame for ISS was an insult to injury, an act of long-awaited vengeance. Six months prior, after having been humiliated for his support of Goonswarm by his fellow ISS members, Jacob Majestic got in touch with the GIA and began working for us as an agent within the ISS Navy. Seemingly eager to demonstrate his loyalty to ISS despite the insult, he had recovered his roles and position as a director and primary fleet commander. As pressure mounted on ISS and the war escalated, Jacob was increasingly relied upon. On the day of reckoning, when D2 attacked ISS in Pure Blind, IAC, TCF and GS attacked in Catch. Rather than allowing a fair fight, Jacob Majestic struck from within ISS itself and delivered the coup de grace. He offlined the towers in the two remaining ISS stations - ZXIC and F4R - and stole everything in the corporate hangars of the ISS Navy. Resistance collapsed utterly as howls of outrage and treason rang from inside ISS. Within the space of two weeks, ISS had gone from contemplating an easy victory over IAC to being utterly annihilated.

EVE 04

The joke wasn't just on ISS, however. Proxy wars are never safe, predictable things, because it is nearly impossible guess who will intervene - the normal rules of strategic interest do not apply. Afterwards, entanglements and grudges inevitably follow. The deep 0.0 powerblocs had dabbled in the ISS war out of amusement, but the aftermath set the stage for the explosion that was the Great War. Sensing weakness in Lotka Volterra after their failure to protect ISS, RedSwarm Federation immediately renewed the war for the South and invaded Detorid and Tenerifis - now with IAC help. LV drew closer to MC and their BoB overlords, who then intervened to defend LV from RSF invasion. A war that began as an amusing diversion flared up into the largest conflict in EVE history, a war which is still raging, two years later.
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